Almost all of us with teardrops, tiny trailers and small tents have one thing in common; our sleeping arrangements are tight and we can’t stand up inside them. Therefore, we need some secondary setup for standing up, seating, changing clothes, porta potty area, etc.
Our setup uses an awning shelter that I attach to our tent, so when we come down the ladder, we are in a dry place where we can stand up. I’ll talk about our standard setup, then I’ll talk about a few other shade/shelter options available.
Our awning is a Kelty Car Port, which Kelty doesn’t make anymore. It was designed to attach to the side rails on an SUV to provide shade, shelter, etc. There is no floor, and it doesn’t come all the way to the ground. The sides do unroll and can be staked down for privacy. Kelty’s new version (below) is the Kelty Sideroads Awning Shelter for $129. It is very much like our Car Port, but does not have privacy side panels. Having an awning in addition to your sleeping rig allows for an area large enough to stand up in. It offers shade, protection from rain, and with the sides down, privacy and limited protection from the wind.
Our roof top tent is exclusively used for sleeping. There isn’t room to stand up, and even sitting up in it is less than comfortable. We use our canopy as our covered seating area, a place to stand up, and a privacy area for changing and porta-potty. You could also use this as a sun shade by using some adjustable tarp poles attached to the sides that are sitting on the ground in the photo, then running some guy lines to keep it taut. That is how I use it next to my trailer. I use Nemo adjustable tarp poles and they are heavy duty and work great. They are currently sold out at http://www.nemoequipment.com. They are also expensive at $59 each. An alternative, which I have not tested, are Green Elephant Telescoping Tarp Poles for $54 for a pair. They have good reviews and look very adjustable and flexible. https://amzn.to/3HFR1g7
In choosing how to outfit our canopy area, I had three priorities; buy quality equipment, get it as lightweight possible, and focus on compact storage/transport. Everything described here fits in travel bins on our adventure trailer. The total trailer load capacity on our Yakima Easy Rider is 500 lbs., and after the roof top tent, spare, and jack, I am always very conscious of my trailer weight.
To keep out of the mud and dirt, we put down a CGEAR Sand-Free Outdoor Camping Mat, 10’x10,’ $114, designed to let dirt, sand and water pass through it. I first experienced this type of mat in our military tent command post in Iraq. Laid out on the sand, it gives a good walking surface. If somebody tracks sand or dirt in from outside, it filters back through the layers. It doesn’t keep out all the dirt and sand but does for the vast majority. It is nice to have right at the entry to our tent ladder, giving us a good place to take off our shoes and boots. There are smaller sizes available, depending on the size of your footprint. They also come in 3’x 3,’ 6’x 6,’ 8’x 8.’ Easy to hose off after getting home and dry in the sun, fold and ready for next time.
For seating, we put up two Helinox Chair 2s, and a Helinox Table One. These are very lightweight, fold up extremely compact and come with their own carry bags. They are on the expensive side, but they are very well made and easily packed. We took our chairs in our carry-on bags to the deserts of Egypt and they performed very well. We carried them in daypacks and set them up during guided tours. They do take a minute or two to set up, but it gets easier with practice. The Chair 2 are currently unavailable, but a larger Savanna High Back, shown below, for $219, is available.
There is a large variety of Helinox chairs, so look at various styles, heights and price points. The frames are aluminum with bungie cords like a tent frame. After snapping the frame together, you attach the seat fabric. They are made by the company that makes the excellent Big Agnus tents. We have had ours over 7 years and traveled with them extensively. They are still like new. I have accessorized these with optional cup holders, sand mats that attach to the legs for use on the beach, and covered sun shades. While not used often, these are very handy additions. The Helinox Table One is very light and sturdy as well, with two can-sized cup holders built in the top. Very nice when you just need a little side table. It doesn’t support much weight, and be careful not to place hot objects on it. I wouldn’t recommend it for cooking on. It is available for $139.
For middle of the night calls of nature, we bought the GO Anywhere portable camping toilet. When folded, it can also be used as a small table. For a couple in our 60s, a nighttime trip to the restroom is almost a necessity. This stays set up in our canopy as a small table, and we roll the sides of our shelter down at night for privacy. Lifting the lid, there is a molded toilet seat the same size as at home. It is also the same height as a regular toilet and extremely sturdy. You may be thinking, “why would they keep a stinky toilet in their seating area?” I get it. When I bought it, I was worried that the advertising of the odorless gel “Pooh-Powder” was over-hyped. It wasn’t. This is surprisingly odor free with the lid closed. We generally only use it for urine, and it can be used for several uses. If there is a poo emergency, I change the bag. The waste bags seal, and can be thrown away in normal trash containers. They should not be buried when boondocking. The replacement bags are about $3 each. Totally worth it, in our opinion, given the freedom of taking care of business in your own campsite and not wandering to the restroom in the dark. I forgot to pack it on one trip, and my wife was very unhappy with me! As a side note, you can’t use this over a hole or bucket. The mesh bag that holds the liner is not removable. This great toilet is available for $107.
For lights and power, we keep our Goal Zero Yeti 400 Lithium solar generator under the canopy. We hang the Goal Zero Light-A-Life 350, $39, for overhead lighting. This light has both a dim and very bright setting, is made specifically for Goal Zero generators, and has a proprietary plug. It has an integrated hook, and roll up cord storage inside the light, so you only have as much cord deployed as you need.
This setup lets us charge our phones and iPad, cameras, and provides plenty of good lighting. You could easily leave the light on dim all night with power to spare. Outside the canopy, we setup our Goal Zero Yeti Boulder 100 Suitcase solar panels to charge the Yeti 400. For the small amount of power we consume, the solar panels top the Yeti off quickly. It is easy to go several days without charging the Yeti. You could get by with a much smaller solar generator for this type application. Goal Zero has discontinued the 400, replacing it with the 500, and it sells for almost $600. For a low-draw power solution like this, you could easily get by with the new Goal Zero Yeti 200X Lithium for $299.
So, how does it all work? For shade, stand up room, seating, and privacy, great. For rain and wind, moderate. Wind will blow under the sides, and heavy rain will blow in. The ground cover has always kept the floor clean and usable without mud coming through. For bugs, it is lousy. We have a screen shelter on back order to specifically have a bug free environment over a picnic table or camp table. I will do an in depth review of that after it comes in.
What alternatives are out there for a canopy solution? There are a few that offer an awning without sidewalls, such as;
Versatility Teardrop Awning for SUV RVing, Car Camping, Trailer and Overlanding Light Weight Truck Canopy Durable Tear Resistant Tarp with 2 Sandbag $116
Kelty Waypoint Tarp $134
Both of the above use attachment points to the vehicle and a single pole design with guy lines.
A few enclosed side car tents that could be modified or used with teardrops, tiny trailers include;
After researching about 20 shelters with sides, this is my favorite. First introduced in 2019, it is a free-standing tent with a floor, windows, air vent, and has an attached canopy that can be used over a vehicle or trailer, or it could be used with poles and guy lines as an awning. It is large enough to stand up in, and the walls are almost vertical, giving lots of room. The cost reasonable, even better than others without a floor. This really is a tent somebody could sleep in, while others are exposed to bugs and rain, particularly between the tent and vehicle. Also, there is a zip up D-shaped door (rolled up in the photo on the left side). This is very versatile. It has steel poles and polyester fabric, and is a little heavy at 19 pounds. I haven’t gotten one yet to review personally, but it looks like a two person setup. This is a good contender for a tiny trailer family with kids, or anybody wanting a bonus room for standing, changing, porta-potty or a sheltered sitting area.
I hope you found this helpful as you fine tune your travel setups!